Do You Believe in Evolution?
April 15, 2009

No, I’m not running for a school board in Kansas. But like the rest of you action figure biologists I’ve enjoyed observing the emergence of newly created figures based on characters that had action figures back when little plastic life on Earth was in its infancy. The last few years in particular have seen a punctuated equilibrium in the field as many toy brands are marking significant anniversaries. So let’s spend a few minutes studying the fossil record and then focus on one character that is due for a genetic mutation.

 

I’ve pulled a few examples from the Action Figure Observer’s Field Manual to illustrate how certain character’s action figural representations have changed over the years.

fig 1. smuggilochus piratopoda, "Han Solo"

 

fig 2. marinebrum joephilus, "Gung Ho"

 

fig 3. muppithecus mayhemata, "Animal"

 

fig 4. purpledieae pantagus, "Hulk"

 

For some lines that have had a long run we can observe examples of microevolution. Take, for instance, the modern Star Wars line that began 14 years ago. Figures that sprung to life shortly after this lines big bang are a far cry from their character’s more recent releases. In fact, the early POTF2 figures demonstrated clear signs of weak DNA. Even their vintage ancestors were superior in many ways. But this modern Star Wars species quickly gained traction. In my personal Star Wars display case I will remove an older, more inferior figure when a new, superior one is released. This is a classic example of "survival of the fittest."

fig 5. clonesetum badaimces, "Stormtrooper"

 

Even as a child I knew there was something wrong with Ram Man. For the vintage Masters of the Universe figure line he was the "one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-other." It wasn’t just that the vintage Ram Man figure shared no common DNA with all the other figures in the line. The vintage Ram Man figure was just plain bad. Don’t ask me to explain why I had affection for it.

2002 rolled around and I started seeing a newly evolved breed of Masters of the Universe figures in the savanna. I held off from personally cataloging them until I saw the new Ram Man. Yes, it shared common descent with its vintage counterpart but some serious genetic drift had occurred! This thing was amazing. Ram Man single handedly sucked me into the line. Unfortunately, the "200x" MOTU species suffered an early extinction.

Then at the 2007 San Diego Comic Con observers caught a glimpse of a never before seen He-Man figure. Its anatomical structure was more reminiscent of the vintage species. A year later we were able to purchase the first offering in this chain of newly evolved Masters of the Universe action figures. This species is now commonly referred to as Masters of the Universe Classics or MOTUC. New subspecies in this line are slow in coming, only being discovered about once per month. I wait in suspenseful anticipation for the day a new Ram Man is revealed.

fig 5. ovis eternillata, "Ram Man"

 

Its not like there wasn’t a precedent set in Ram Man’s genetic blueprint to explain the tremendous leap between his vintage and modern figural representations. Let’s set aside the most glaring anomaly: his mini comic incarnation. The way Ram Man appeared in the Masters of the Universe cartoon in the early 80′s is more similar to the vintage figure. Most obvious was the fact that he was rather squat.

The 2002/2003 Masters of the Universe cartoon and comic books unveiled an evolved Ram Man. The basic ornamentations remained the same but the subjects height and bulk were seriously increased. This seems a predictable adaptation for a breed that survives being a "human battering ram."

I am left wondering: if a MOTUC Ram Man is ever spotted will it resemble more its vintage organism or the 200x incarnation?

A more basic inquiry: will Matty and the Four Horsemen get their proteins together and create a Ram Man for the MOTUC line? Seems like a natural selection.

TAGS:
Danny "CantinaDan" Neumann
Action figure anthropologist, Professor Cantina Dan Neumann has been a scholastic contributor to the online community studying the complex world of parumplasticus populus {little plastic people} since the turn of this millenium. His primary focus is the visual cataloging of species exhibits through photo-journalism.
Read other articles by Danny "CantinaDan" Neumann.

 

 

 

15 Comments »

  • Jeremy SpyMagician says:

    GREAT POST DAN!

    I love the idea of evolution in Action Figures. Some of my collecting buddies want just one “definitive” version of a character and when they update the collection, they dump the older one.

    Often I prefer to focus on specific characters and collect multiple versions as I find the evolution in style, quality and design fascinating.

    Spy

  • Oddjob says:

    Cool post, think you got a little off topic on Ram-Man, but neat suggestions anyway.

  • Chip Cataldo says:

    Awesome blog! LOL @ “clonesetum badaimces.”

    Peace,

    Chip

  • Jason Jason Geyer says:

    This is just an awesome blog; great photography, great design, great idea!

    I’d pay to see a book of these!

  • Thatman says:

    I love the comparisons, and it’s a great point, especially to see illustrated.

  • Casimir says:

    A quality post, sir! Like Jason, I’d pay for a book of such visual comparisons.

    Of course, this begs for an article about the recent de-evolution of figures. (i.e. some of the recent 3-3/4″ lines that seems to shy away from the technological improvements of the last ten years, and look like they were produced in 1992.)

  • jzachery says:

    Even with all the improvements the vintage toys will always be my first love… When they do too much detail or articulation, it’s like when they over explain a movie… Just my point of view though…

    Ram Man, best MOTU figure ever in the first line… I’m hoping the new one when he comes is like that, not the 200x one…

  • This was a great idea, and you executed it perfectly. Using Big-Head Han as your first example was a stroke of genius.

  • texgnome1 says:

    Wow – seeing them side by side like that is striking. It’s amazing how much toys have improved since we were kids. Now get busy and put together a round 2! Thanks for the post.

  • Lars says:

    Thanks for the side-by-sides. It’s impressive how far the sculpting has come.

  • Tristan says:

    Good article, I would really like to see something on the ADVENTURE PEOPLE from Fisher Price-these were really the first true action figures and it was what the original SW figures were based on. Not only that, they were ethnically mixed-the first for a toy line in the small action figure scale. I love the SW comparison shots, we truly have come a long way. Wonder if you will write on article on what we have gained and at what costs to the fan/collector? Keep up the great articles.

  • Lt. Clutch says:

    Never dug biology until I read this piece. Very well done stuff, Dan! Loved the clever scientific names along with the comparison pics.

    Ram-Man ROCKS and always will. Done properly, he could be MOTU’s version of Iron Man. (Think streamlining, guys.) Give him a cool shiny armor and helmet, Rammy will be smashing his noggin’ into Grayskull’s front door just like back in the good old days,…with a healthier heart to boot!

  • Philip Reed says:

    Hey, I completely forgot about those late 70s Muppets action figures. I had Fozzie, Animal, Kermit. They were fun to play with.

  • Eric Torres says:

    Dan,

    Awesome post. I’m with Jason G. on this, let’s see a book based on this observation. I really think it would be well-received by fans, collectors, etc. Let us know when it’s available! :D

    Eric

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